Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ali'i Aniani: The Making of an Exhibition Piece

The necklace and earring set Ali'i Aniani was created for a multi-media juried exhibition at Hui No'eau Visual Art Center. The theme of this six week exhibitiion is: "Primarily Red". Artists were asked "to interpret red literally, figuratively, financially, emotionally, spiritually, chromatically, politically, and socially, etc. in all it’s various forms and create work based on that interpretation." (

For me, creating a new bead or necklace starts with a picture forming very vividly in my mind. In this case I contemplated the theme of the exhibition until that image appeared. Sometimes the finished piece closely matches the inspiration. Sometimes it wanders off in another direction as image is translated to form and the piece takes on a life of its own.

For this exhibition red glass was a must. I had worked with red glass and 24 karat gold leaf before but only slightly and most often I encased the finished beads with clear glass to prevent the gold leaf from burning in the torch. The image that was developing in my mind for this project, however, was simply red glass and gold.

As I created beads with the glass and gold leaf the piece began to not only take on form but feeling as well. Together form and feeling began to suggest a title for the piece. Words like regal and royal floated through my mind but were quickly replaced by Ali'i, the Hawaiian word designating the noble or chiefly class. In today's usage Ali'i is often translated as royal. Commercially we see it used to imply top quality, the best; as in Ali'i Services.

At this point I consulted with my Hawaiian mentor Rachael Kimmel ( We briefly considered Ali'i 'Ahu'ula; the cape or cloak made of feathers and worn only by the noble class. These were traditionally red and yellow trimmed in black with the yellow feathers being more rare and valuable. Hence the all yellow cape of Kamehameha I with its 450,000 feathers. It was Kamehameha I who unified the islands of Hawai'i in 1810. See: for a picture of his cape which now resides in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Be sure to click the link, "Feather Bundles - Kamehameha Cloak.

But a necklace is not a cape or cloak. The colors were right but we rejected Ali'i 'Ahu'ula and settled on Ali'i Aniani; Royal Glass. The title, like the beads, is simple. It has a ring to it and it conveys the feeling that is inherent in the piece.

Getting a matched set of beads requires exactness in color, length and diameter or width. This is always at least a two day process as, once a bead is made, it goes into a kiln to be annealed (tempered) and properly cooled. At that point it is not available to be used for comparison when making the next bead.

I might add here that I'm either a purist or a fool (I like to think the former) in that I do not use the presses and molds that are available to ensure uniformity of size and shape. All of the beads in this piece were made with just a torch to heat the glass to working temperature, a stainless steel rod (mandrel) on which the molten glass is wrapped, and a flat graphite paddle used for shaping.

Because of my late decision to enter the exhibition, the deadline for delivering the finished piece to be juried was looming as I worked on it. Along the way I had encountered delays born of trials and tribulations (mistakes) that challenged my intention and commitment. While several times tempted to give up, in the end this was a wonderful process calling forth perseverance.

Twice I used rods of glass that came from different batches with the result that, once cooled, I had colors that didn't match. After the gold leaf is applied to the already formed bead, the bead needs to be heated just enough to ensure that the gold is well adhered. I also wanted enough heat for the gold to crackle and provide interesting visual patterning and "texture". However, just a bit too much heat and the gold will burn off leaving an ugly black spot.

Because red glass (and orange and yellow too) is black when heated to working temperature color variations and black burn marks can't be seen until the bead has cooled to room temperature. Cooling is a process that takes hours; for me that usually means over night. For both reasons, mismatched glass and burned gold, I had to go back and make more beads: the last time on the morning of the submission deadline! That meant hours of waiting for the beads to cool and then stringing the necklace and making the earrings.

In the end, though, I was happy with what I was delivering the short distance down the road to the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center. I made it with just over an hour to spare!

Unfortunately, the email arrived today saying that Ali'i Aniani was not accepted for the exhibition. I try to live my life with positive expectations while not, as the old adage goes, counting my chickens before the eggs have hatched. In this case, I must confess I crossed the line. I had no doubt and the disappointment was very real.

I'm left with "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." and "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

The necklace is strung on 19 strand, 24 karat gold plated, stainless wire encased in nylon. This excellent product made by SoftFlex provides exceptional strength while maintaining flexibility. The handmade beads are complemented with hammered gold vermeil beads and red and black Swarovski crystals. The clasp was hand formed from heavy gauge gold fill wire by Leo Norrie (The Maui Bead Shop) and then further modified by me. Ear wires are 14 karat gold fill.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.